The Collegiate Truth

Albus Dumbledore told us, “It matters not what someone is born, but what they grow to be.” But society has never been a meritocracy. Through most of recorded history, the situation into which people were born defined their entire lives. A peasant remained a peasant, a noble a noble. Those in political power passed down their titles, usually to the eldest male heir, and kings and queens were chosen based on birth, not leadership skills. Thus ancestry, an uncontrollable aspect of life, was the foundation of success. We like to think that society has changed for the better, that the playing field has leveled, that we are no longer judged primarily by our family tree. But the college admission process says otherwise. In 2008, Princeton admitted less than 10% of its overall applicant pool, but accepted 40% of legacy applicants. Essentially, the child of a Princeton grad had a four-times greater chance of acceptance than a peer with no Princeton legacy. A child of a Dartmouth grad had up to two-and-a-half-times greater chance. At Middlebury, the admit ratio was 18% overall compared with 48% for legacies. In terms of college, a legacy provides a dramatic advantage. But why would a school take legacy into account in the first place? The answer is simple: Because a family of multiple Bowdoin graduates, for example, is more likely to donate substantial amounts of money to Bowdoin. It’s a little shady, but it makes sense. Colleges are financial entities, and their policies are often influenced by fiscal responsibility. However, colleges are not just ordinary corporations. They are exempt from property tax, are given federal grants, and receive substantial tax deductions. So is the system fair? No, and schools know it. Harvard and Yale, for example, generally avoid reporting statistics regarding legacies, preferring to keep this remnant of the “old boy system” under wraps. Indeed, the legacy advantage can be seen as affirmative action for the rich, a concept that contradicts the “diversity” mantra that’s ringing from the clock tower of every university. It’s a dirty reality any admissions department would rather gloss over than sing about. But if 40% of Princeton legacy applicants are accepted, that means that 60% are still denied. Though being a legacy dramatically increase the probability of acceptance, they do not guarantee admission. Legacies give an application a small, but still unfair advantage. Why do I care? Exactly 2 weeks ago, I applied Early Action to an Ivy League school as a third-generation legacy. Hear me out; this was not an easy decision for me to make. I started grappling with the issue last fall, when I reluctantly began thinking about life after Andover. I was disinclined to apply to this university, worried about the Catch-22 that a legacy presented: If rejected, I would consider myself a failure. If accepted, I would consider myself a cheater. Nevertheless, I fell in love with the school when I visited the campus and decided to apply anyway. Go ahead, judge me. In a way, I’m judging myself. If I think the legacy system is immoral, I logically cannot use it to my own advantage with a spotless conscience. Legacies provide applicants with a leg-up that has nothing to do with whether or not they deserve it. But the college process is ridiculously competitive. Should we take whatever help we can get? I don’t feel great about it, but I’ve made my choice. Come what may, I’ve decided to give this school my best shot. Sophie Gould is a four-year Senior from South Hamilton, MA and the Managing Editor for The Phillipian.